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Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918

The Attack Renewed

The Attack Renewed.

The time had now arrived for the resumption of the general attack by the Fourth Army. In the minor, though page 128 none the less desperate efforts of the preceding few days, we had gradually strengthened and advanced our positions, and had done much in the direction of asserting a valuable moral ascendancy over the enemy. The task allotted to the XV. Corps on September 25th was the capture of Gird Trench as far as its junction with the Gueudecourt-Factory Road, and the village of Gueudecourt itself. The New Zealand Division's share in this attack was the capture of Factory Corner, and the establishing of a line thence to the high ground running north-east from Flers Support across to Goose Alley over a frontage of 1,900 yards. This was to be carried out in conjunction with the advance of the III. Corps on our left, which was concerned with the capture of Flers Trench up to the High Wood-Thilloy Road, and finally joining up with the Reserve Army at Courcelette. The New Zealand Division was thus on the left of the XV. Corps, and on the gaining of the day's objective was to take over from the III. Corps on Flers Support as far north-west as its junction with Goose Alley. Three Battalions of the 1st Infantry Brigade were to be utilised for the New Zealand Division's part in the attack, namely, Otago, Auckland, and Canterbury, in order named from left to right.

The preliminary bombardment of the enemy's lines by the massed guns of all calibres had commenced at 7 a.m. on the 24th, but, as previously, in order to keep from the enemy any indication of the actual time of attack, there was to be no intensified bombardment immediately preceding zero hour. Grove Alley presented a rather serious obstacle to advancing troops owing to its great depth and width; but to overcome this difficulty steps were dug in the sides and duck-boards placed ready for facilitating the passage across. The attack really combined two stages, with the second part of which the 1st Battalion of Otago alone was concerned; the intention being to push forward to the high ground beyond the lower portion of Goose Alley fronting the first objective. The attack was to be carried out with two companies, constituting four waves in the front line, namely, 10th (North Otago) Company, commanded by Captain J. Hargest, and 4th (Otago) Company, commanded by Temp.-Captain J. Herbert, both being led and directed by Captain Hargest, with 14th (South Otago) Company, commanded by Captain W. page break
Lieut.-ColonelA. B. Charters,C.M.G., D.S.O., (D.)

Lieut.-ColonelA. B. Charters,
C.M.G., D.S.O., (D.)

page 129 Ward, in support and 8th (Southland) Company commanded by Major S. Rice, in reserve. On the morning of the attack the enemy artillery had opened up very heavy fire along Flers Support. Zero hour was fixed for 12.35 p.m., and prior to that time the two leading waves had formed up in Grove Alley and the second two in rear.

Punctually to time the barrage of many guns broke out along the front, the great howitzers joining with unexampled violence in the chorus. Almost at the moment that our barrage fell, the fire from many light enemy guns grouped about Goose Alley ceased abruptly. The attack got well away, moving behind the barrage with such regularity as to resemble a practice movement on a grand scale. The road and low ground in front of Grove Alley having been safely crossed, the ascent of the ridge running up to Goose Alley was commenced; but fairly heavy machine gun fire from the right front was encountered and a number of casualties sustained. A party of the enemy, numbering from 50 to 60, bravely counter-attacked over the crest of the ridge as our attack was actually in motion, but their attempt to get through our barrage was unsuccessful, and when our attacking troops passed over the ground a few wounded men and three smashed machine guns were all that was left of them. This enemy attack was delivered from about the junction of Goose Alley and the Flers-Eaucourt L'Abbaye Road, and was probably conceived with the object of covering the withdrawal of the enemy quick-firing guns previously referred to. On arrival at the crest of the hill it was found that Goose Alley, instead of being on the near slope, as was assumed, was about 200 yards down the forward slope, and in attacking down hill the men came under heavy sniping and machine gun fire from the direction of Eaucourt L'Abbaye, the sparseness of the line alone preventing many casualties. In Goose Alley itself the enemy was encountered in but limited numbers, and they were either bayoneted or surrendered.

The work of consolidation of the new line was immediately commenced, and Lewis gun posts were pushed forward to a distance of from 60 to 100 yards. Goose Alley, on the left of the newly-formed position, was found to be so blocked with the dead of friend and foe, the result of the desperate and bitter fighting which had waged round the junction of Goose page 130 Alley and Flers Support during preceding days, that a new trench had to be dug in front. The supporting 14th Company was sent up to refuse the right flank, and dug in along the Flers-Eaucourt L'Abbaye Road, facing north-east, the line at this point now forming a pronounced salient at the apex of which a strong-point and block were established. The operation had proved eminently successful.

The 55th Division reported that it was in touch with Canterbury troops at Factory Corner, but the position there nevertheless for some time remained obscure. There was, indeed, a gap of about 500 yards between the right and the 55th Divisional troops, but this was ultimately adjusted by the 55th Division bridging it with strong-points. On the left everything had gone well, and we were in touch with the 1st Division. The day passed without change in the situation, though the enemy worried us in a desultory manner with heavy shells. Early in the afternoon Battalion Headquarters were blown out, and had to be moved forward to a new position in Flers Support. On the following day Battalion Headquarters again moved, on this occasion to Goose Alley, where a conference of Company Commanders was held in reference to further operations.

On the afternoon of the above attack, a warning order was received from Corps that in the event of the situation being very favourable the New Zealand Division should be prepared to receive orders to attack the line of Gird Trenches north-west of Gueudecourt and thence south along Goose Alley to the point where it was then held. As the 1st Battalion of Otago was on the left flank of the projected attack, Lieut.-Colonel Charters was ordered to form a defensive flank along the line of Goose Alley by constructing a line of strong-points facing north-west. The 55th Division on the right would at the same time attack from the Gueudecourt-Factory Corner Road northwards. The situation in Gueudecourt village, however, was not clear, and for that reason the attack intended for the 26th was postponed until the 27th. As a matter of fact, between four and five o'clock on the afternoon of the 26th the enemy was observed in considerable numbers advancing across the open from the direction of Ligny Thilloy and Le Barque with a view to attacking the 55th Division, east of Factory Corner. After covering some page 131 distance they were seen to conceal themselves in the corn and long grass, whereupon the area was promptly and, apparently, effectively searched by the 55th Field Artillery.